Are you thinking about attending Sterling College in Vermont? Here are 10 tips for new Sterling College students from Ali Steer ‘17. Ali came to Sterling as a transfer student and has a self-designed major in Farm and Nature Education.
My name is Ali, and I am a transfer student at Sterling College. Before I tell you about my experience at Sterling and what I think every new student to Sterling should know, I will tell you how I came to be at Sterling and what my experience has been like here.
I decided to come to Sterling for a change in my education. For two and a half years I had been studying cultural anthropology at another college, and after a semester off from school working with a farm-based education center, I found that I did not want to go back to a heavy workload of academic reading and writing; I wanted to pursue something different and more akin to my learning style and personal needs.
I came in as a senior and self-designed a major in Farm and Nature Education. I am so grateful to have been able to pull together past experience and coursework with my interests, while also being able to take classes that I wanted to take in my one year at Sterling. In addition to education classes and required coursework, I have learned how to weave and how to work with wood, two things that I have always wanted to learn.
Outside of coursework, I have spent a lot of time working on the farm and in the kitchen, and I joined the Nordic skiing and the trail running teams. Coming to Sterling College allowed me to take a deep breath, assess, and have agency in the course of my education. I plan to go on to become a farmer and an educator, and work on making meaningful changes in our food and education systems.
Although I have only been at Sterling for one year, I will offer my thoughts on things that are important for a new Sterling student to know.
1. Choose the Work Program job that’s right for you.
When you make your requests for which Work Program job you want to have for each year, consider what you want to get out of those hours that you will work each week. I chose the job of baker’s apprentice because I know that, as an introvert, during a long week of classes and conversation, it is really important to me to have time to work independently. Though I am never in the kitchen without a mentor, I am able to work with some personal freedom. Some jobs are in work crews that all work together each week, and others are more independent and solitary in nature. Think about how you want to spend that time each week, and speak up for you what is best for you.
2. There’s a Kitchen suggestion box. Use it!
Know that there is a suggestion box on the snack table in the dining hall. The Kitchen wants feedback and suggestions. The food program at Sterling aims to bring healthful and locally-sourced foods to the dining hall, and they also want to create a dining experience that makes people feel good about their food. If you would really love to have your family’s rice casserole for lunch, put the recipe in the suggestion box and ask if it is something that the Kitchen could make for everyone. Chances are that you will see it on the menu in the future.
3. Your advisor can be a great resource for you.
You will be assigned an advisor for your first semester, but after that, you can request any advisor that you want. Sometime it is hard to know who you work best with and who is most able to answer your specific questions and meet your needs. If you do not know who is the best advisor for your academic interests, start by asking for someone that you feel you work well with. This way you can be comfortable asking questions and navigating classes and your academic goals. It is also important to know that all faculty are there for you. Though usually quite busy, everyone wants to help, so speak up for your needs and reach out if you need assistance.
4. Sterling does athletics differently.
I never liked the word athletics, and I have never liked organized sports, but I have been a part of all of the teams here at Sterling. Why you ask? Well, Sterling only has two teams for Nordic Skiing and Trail Running (the Skyrunners), and they are the most welcoming, supportive, and fun teams I have ever been part of. What I appreciate so much about this small athletics program is that the teams are open to anyone interested in joining, regardless of skill level and experience. Other than a one-day stint on a kiddy slope when I was 6, I had never skied in my life before joining the team. I knew that I was not at a level to really compete in races, and so I just treated the few races that I did as practices. I tried to ski my best and otherwise just made sure I was having fun. With that being said, If you are someone who has skied your whole life and can run up and down mountains already, these teams are also for you. You have to be accepting of all abilities and know that these are relatively casual teams, but you can go out and show who’s boss in a 50 km ski or trail running ultra marathon if you want to.
5. Get ready to work hard.
You need to be willing to build a good and positive work ethic when it comes to the Work Program and chores at Sterling. Many aspects of how this community functions depend on student work. You have to show up on time and communicate with your supervisor, do honest work, and be open to exploring the idea that what is fun or not fun all depends on your attitude. There is a lot to learn and a lot of fun and joy to be had, but you have to be willing to lean in and build a positive relationship with your work.
6. Mugs have a way of disappearing.
If you bring your favorite mug to school with you and have dreams of drinking your beloved cup of coffee out of it every morning, you must know that if you put that mug on the dish counter to be washed in the Kitchen, it may be a while before you see it again. If you lose a mug and you ask around, chances are that it will come back to you quickly, but the flow of mugs and dishes in and out of the dorms, classrooms, and the library is constant, and sometimes a mug will hang around in the corner of someone’s room for a long time. If you want to have dishes to eat and drink out of and off of, you have to bring things back to the kitchen!
7. Long underwear is a must.
Winter can be really cold and long up here in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. Some years it is not this way at all, but you must be ready for it if you want to ensure your happiness through the winter. Snowpants and overalls are cool. Long underwear is a must. Bring a jacket that is warm enough so that when you spend two hours in class standing on a frozen lake in five- degree weather, measuring dissolved oxygen levels under the ice, you can have a warm body and a smile on your face. Winter is beautiful up here, but you will only realize that if you’re dressed so that you can be comfortable outside.
8. You can savor your food here.
I transferred to Sterling from a college where I piled up my plate, found a small table, sat alone, ate fast, and didn’t taste nor properly digest the food that I ate. Sterling is different. Though you may eat fast or decide to sit alone,which I still do sometimes, I can sit down at any table I want to and I will find myself in good company. My advice regarding the dining hall and food culture at Sterling is to engage in conversation, eat slowly, and taste the food you are eating because it is darn good.
9. Speak your needs and share your woes.
The Sterling community wants its members to be happy and healthy. It is, of course, complicated and difficult at times to meet everyone’s needs, but you should know that if you need something or feel that something needs to change, you have the power to speak up and share that with the whole community. Everyone can be heard if they want to be heard, and it is up to you to be your own advocate.
10. Go ahead and start something! Or not.
As I just mentioned, each member of this community has a voice. If you want to bring your favorite musician to campus, show a movie that you have been dying to see, sing together on Friday nights after dinner, have a poetry reading, or lead a trip into the mountains for a weekend, you also have the power to propose these experiences. If you can get enough people on board and any required funds are available, you can make it happen. The reason that I say “Or not” is because I want to speak to the fact that in a lot of schools, community work and student leadership is held so high, that if you do not participate, you are not valued and you are seen as not working to get the most out of you college years. I absolutely believe that college is what you make of it, and that is certainly the case here at Sterling, but the difference that I have found here is that you can engage with the community however you like.
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